How you view Wall Street's stunning Thursday welcome for Twitter -- the second-largest tech IPO of all time in terms of dollars raised -- depends on which lens you use.
Closing at $44.90, more than 70 percent above its offering price, Twitter scored a first-day market value of $25 billion -- which skeptics viewed with wonder, considering the company's never turned a profit. Others, though, admired the careful steps Chief Executive Dick Costolo and his board took to avoid the pitfalls of Facebook's initial public offering of stock last year.
And perhaps the best news for many around the Bay Area who may never own a Twitter share, or even use its service, is that the robust result seems sure to keep the wealth-generation machine humming.
"Looks like housing prices will keep going up," quipped Jeffrey Crowe, a venture capitalist with Norwest Venture Partners in Palo Alto.
Crowe pointed out that when Facebook's first-day share price plunged, it took months until the stock markets welcomed more technology IPOs -- and even longer for consumer tech companies.
Now, he said, "You've got a lot of good companies teed up" to go public. "And there's very broad demand across the big institutions" that dominate Wall Street.
Twitter got the party started Wednesday evening by agreeing to sell 70 million shares to those institutional investors -- pension funds, large online brokers and the like -- at $26 apiece.
That netted the company $1.8 billion, second among tech IPOs only to Facebook's $16 billion haul. Investors seemed to think Twitter could have priced even higher, however: Thursday's initial public trade at 7:49 a.m. Pacific time sent the stock soaring to $45.
Trading under the symbol TWTR on the New York Stock Exchange, it briefly crested $50 before declining nearly 10 percent in the market's final hour. Still, the closing price of $44.90 represented a 73 percent "pop" that seemed sure to set Champagne corks popping around Silicon Valley.
Even as it set many experts to scratching their heads.
"I guess there's a lot of crazy people out there," said Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at Pace University in New York. "There's no evidence that anybody of consequence has invested serious money to advertise on Twitter."
Chiagouris also noted the oddity of Twitter's share price equaling that of Facebook, which has five times as many users and five times as much revenue -- to say nothing of being profitable.
Regulatory documents indicate Twitter's net loss swelled to $134 million through the first nine months of this year. Revenues, however, have soared to $422 million -- more than double from the same period in 2012 -- thanks to advertisers keen to reach the company's 230 million users.
In a nod to the importance of those users, Twitter allowed three of its popular tweeters to ring the stock exchange's opening bell, an honor usually reserved for company executives. They ranged from sci-fi movie icon Patrick Stewart to Vivienne Harr, a 9-year-old from Marin County who used Twitter to promote her lemonade stand and raise more than $100,000 to fight child slavery.
"Now you don't have to be big or powerful to change the world," Vivienne told this newspaper from a New York toy store where she and her dad were celebrating. "You can be just like me."
That democratizing power helps inspire fierce loyalty among many Twitter users. And at least one of them expressed fears Thursday that success might go to the company's head.
Carlos Araiza, a music producer who releases new songs online by tweeting links, worried investors would pressure Twitter to change some of its services. "It's perfect just as it is," he said near the company's San Francisco headquarters.
A spokesman said Twitter would not make any employees or executives available for comment. But Costolo told CNBC before the stock began trading that he "really wouldn't change anything about the way we've approached the process."
Pressed as to when Twitter might become profitable, Costolo indicated he was in no rush. Having spent heavily after becoming CEO in 2010 to make the once crash-prone site more reliable, Costolo said he's now focused on developing new products, such as additional photo and video capability -- "the investments that I think we want to make to grow the business."
Scott Kessler, head of technology research at S&P Capital IQ, predicted Twitter's revenues will nearly double in each of the next two years, especially as the company looks to monetize its huge overseas user base.
Kessler doesn't expect it to turn a profit until 2015, however. And he estimated a fair valuation for the company at no more than $13.7 billion, based on its sales trajectory. In a research report, he said he sees "considerable risks" for investors, given that user growth and engagement seem to be slowing.
While Facebook is currently valued at 11 times its projected 2014 revenues, Twitter's new market cap is some 25 times what analysts expect it to take in next year.
Given the fiscal uncertainties, Jack Hillis, a financial planner in San Jose, said he's advising people who are weighing whether to buy the stock to "let the dust settle. See what happens over the next 30 or 60 days."
For company insiders, where the stock closed Thursday is less important than where it will be trading in six months, when federal "lockup" rules allow employees and early investors to sell their shares.
Twitter staffers started showing up at its Market Street headquarters at 6 a.m. for an early-morning rally. After the stock began trading, many spilled out onto the street wearing broad smiles.
Not everyone was happy: About a dozen protesters from labor groups decried tax breaks Twitter and other tech companies have received from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. While the incentives encourage companies to spruce up downtrodden neighborhoods rather than move jobs out of town, the protesters said affordable housing is being sacrificed to tech millionaires.
Ironically, the activists used Twitter to promote their cause.
Staff writer Heather Somerville contributed to this report. Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638; follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/jowens510.
Here's how much Twitter's biggest shareholders made on paper Thursday, based on the stock's closing price:
Rizvi Traverse, private equity firm: $3.8 billion (holds 15.6 percent of company stock)
Evan Williams, co-founder: $2.6 billion (holds 10.4 percent)
JPMorgan, investment bank: $2.2 billion (9 percent)
Spark Capital, venture firm: $1.45 billion (6 percent)
Benchmark Capital/Peter Fenton, venture capital: $1.4 billion (5.8 percent)
Union Square Ventures, venture capital: $1.2 billion (5.1 percent)
DST Global, venture capital: $1 billion (4.4 percent)
Jack Dorsey, co-founder: $1 billion (4.3 percent)
Dick Costolo, CEO: $345 million (1.4 percent)
Source: Staff research
BY the NUMBERS
$1.8 billion -- Amount Twitter raised by selling 70 million shares to investors at $26 apiece
73 percent -- First-day increase in share price, based on Thursday's close
$24.7 billion -- Twitter's market valuation as of Thursday night, more than bigger rival LinkedIn's
$422 million -- Twitter's 2013 revenue through Sept. 30
$134 million -- Company's 2013 net loss through Sept. 30
Source: Staff research